The hack squat is a machine-based squat used by many weight lifters for lower body development, as it is an excellent exercise to work your glutes, quads, core, and calves.
However, if your gym doesn’t have a hack squat machine, you might be wondering what you can do to achieve the same results. So how can you receive all the benefits of a hack squat without using a hack squat machine? Relax, we’ve got you covered!
In this article, we’ll explore the 9 best hack squat alternatives, including instructions on how to perform them with the correct form to prevent injury whilst also examining the benefits of each exercise, too.
As with any exercise, weight lifting can put your body under an immense amount of strain if you’re not careful and you want to ensure that you’re doing everything that you can to prevent injury, so it’s important to get your form right when working out in the gym.
Next time you’re in the gym and there isn’t a hack squat machine available, you can give one of these exercises a try for the same result!
Muscles targeted in the hack squat
The hack squat is great for engaging multiple different muscle groups, for toning and building muscle in the lower body.
The muscles worked in the hack squat are:
- Gluteus (Maximus and Medius).
What are the benefits of hack squats?
The hack squat machine is designed as a smith machine so the weight load is on a guided rail to avoid tipping over and to prevent too much pressure on you.
Unlike conventional squats with a bar in a rack that can place the strain on the lower back the entire time, the hack squat machine helps to provide the person training with proper balance, stability and also offers support on the body or the lower back.
A hack squat is an exercise that can benefit the entire core muscles, entire leg muscles, lower back muscles, glutes, and can even strengthen certain tendons to ensure the body remains healthy and strong whilst you continue to build muscle and smash those gym goals!
Why do you need hack squat alternatives?
The main reason for needing a hack squat alternative is simply down to a lack of equipment. Not all gyms have hack squat machines, and so, if you’re going to keep smashing your goals you’ll need to carry another exercise out that has the same effects.
Alternatively, hack squats can put a strain on your body. This can be a worry, especially if you’ve experienced an injury in the past and have lost your confidence, or you simply want a different type of squat to accommodate your injury.
You might even just feel intimidated by the hack squat machine. Whatever it is that’s preventing you from doing hack squats, we’re here to help you overcome the obstacle.
Check out the 9 best hack squat alternatives below!
Similar to the hack squat, the leg press is a machine-based exercise. If you’re a regular gym-goer, then it is likely that you already use a leg press machine.
The benefits of using a leg press machine are that it isolates your lower body when you’re training, targeting the major lower body muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and calves.
Not only is the leg press machine excellent at working the same muscle groups as the hack squat and is especially easy for beginners to use, but it can also take the pressure off your body too, as free-weights can put a lot of axial load on your spine.
The leg press is not only an excellent alternative to the hack squat machine, but it is also less fatiguing than some of the freestanding weight alternatives we provide in this article.
Leg press guide
- Lie down on the machine, placing your feet on the platform.
- Adjust the seat accordingly if the platform feels too far away.
- Make sure your feet are hip distance apart as if you’re mimicking squatting.
- Extend your legs to disengage the safety catch, being careful not to lock your knees.
- Bend your knees until your thighs are at or below parallel.
- Push the platform away from you, for as many repetitions as you wish.
Tip: You can easily load more weight onto a leg press than freestanding weights. To save time, once you’re warmed up, try bigger weight alternatives! It will mean you don’t have to do as many repetitions.
The goblet squat is another great alternative to the hack squat and is great for beginners.
The goblet squat works the same muscle groups as a hack squat but instead requires a dumbbell or a kettlebell in replacement of the machine.
The goblet squat is thought of as a full-body movement. They work your quads, calves, glutes, and entire core, and your arms and grip strength because you're not only squatting but are also holding onto the dumbbell.
Goblet squat guide
- Hold a dumbbell vertically, making sure that your palms are supporting the underside of the upper part of the dumbbell.
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart, making sure that your feet are firmly pressed into the ground to steady your balance.
- Remaining upright, lower your body into a squat position, keeping the dumbbell to your chest at all times.
- Stand up by pushing the floor through the balls of your feet, never put pressure on your toes.
- Keep this form throughout and do as many repetitions as your workout allows for.
Tip: Keep your elbows as close to your torso as possible, to avoid making your wrists aching and causing potential injury.
Barbell hack squat
Another great alternative to the hack squat is a barbell hack squat. When it comes to the barbell hack squat, you hold a barbell behind you to work the muscles.
The barbell hack squat has a lot of the same benefits as the hack squat. Having the barbell behind you requires you to bend your knees more in order to stay balanced while also allowing you to stay more upright. As a result of this exercise, your quads have to work harder, too, meaning you’re working multiple muscle groups.
However, the barbell squat can be more difficult to perform, especially for beginners, as it is a freestanding weight exercise.
Bearing this in mind, you should start small by lightening the weight you’d usually squat with on the barbell, and spend a few more workouts getting used to the exercise. Once you feel more confident, you can up the weight.
Barbell hack squat guide
- Load the barbell with weights the same as you would for a deadlift, only you should start with a lighter weight just while you’re getting used to the motion.
- Step in front of the bar, making sure that your feet are firmly on the ground.
- Keep your legs hip distance apart as you would for a normal squat, bend down and grab the bar as you get down.
- As you stand, push the weight through the balls of your feet. It is important to remember to not load your toes with too much weight.
- Repeat for as many sets as your workout requires.
Tip: Keep your chest up and your back straight, and ensure to squeeze as you get to the top!
The v-squat is a machine-based exercise that is very similar to the mechanics of a hack squat, and also removes the stabilization requirements seen in a free weight squat.
The Plate-Loaded V-Squat is designed to have a natural squatting motion while working to reduce back and knee strain through a curved arc of motion.
The v-squat is also really simple, so it’s perfect for beginners just starting out at the gym! Use it to practice your squat position before moving onto unassisted squats with free standing weights and you’ll be building muscle in no time!
- Step onto the platform and make sure that your feet are hip distance apart.
- Make sure that your shoulders are touching the shoulder pads on the machine.
- Hold onto the handles of the machine, they are there to aid you!
- When you’re ready, stand up and ensure the safety catch releases before beginning to bend down.
- Descend by bending your knees until you’re in the squat position.
- Push the platform away with your feet to stand up, making sure that you are pushing through the whole of your foot.
- Repeat for as many repetitions as you’d like.
- Always remember to engage the safety catch to step out of the machine at the end of your set.
Tip: Depending on your workout goals, you can form a more narrow squat to target your quads more.
During a front squat, the barbell is placed on the front of the shoulders. Having the bar in this position requires the lifter to push their knees farther forward in order to stay upright, replicating the position of a hack squat.
A benefit of performing a front squat is that it can be easier on the lower back, as the position of the weight doesn't compress the spine like it would in a back squat.
Front squat guide
- Using a squat rack, place the barbell at your shoulder height.
- Place your hands just beyond shoulder width.
- Keep your elbows high at all times, so that your triceps are parallel to the floor.
- Stand up to lift the bar from the squat rack.
- Set your squat stance, feet hip distance apart.
- Bend your knees, and sit into the squat position.
- Press through the foot, making sure to keep the heel on the ground at all times.
- Repeat for as many reps as you desire!
Tip: As this exercise can be awkward for your wrists, place just the tips of your fingers on the bar instead of attempting to make contact with the top of your palms. You’ll also want to make sure that you keep the toes pointed slightly outwards, as well as ensuring that your knees track in the direction the toes point and keep the chest up proud. As with any weight lifting exercise, the correct form is key!
A back squat also works well as an alternative to hack squats. Traditional squats with a barbell target the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and your entire core in a powerful compound movement.
Mastering back squats can have multiple benefits. For instance, back squats can improve lower back strength. Alongside this, they can overall increase lower body power and help you build a strong core/torso as they involve a lot of balancing and your core must be engaged.
The primary difference between the hack squat and barbell squat is that you’ll need to focus on upper body stability and hip engagement.
Back squat guide
- Before you begin, make sure that the barbell is the right height for you on the squat rack (around the same height as your shoulder).
- Position yourself under the bar, making sure that your shoulders are in the correct position and that the bar feels comfortable on your back.
- Lift the bar off the squat rack, and take a few steps backward.
- Place your feet hip distance apart, ensuring that they’re fully planted on the ground. You might have to adjust depending on your mobility.
- Brace your core and hinge back through the hips, keeping your chest facing up.
- When you reach parallel or below, drive up through the heels to complete the movement.
- Repeat the exercise for as many reps as you see fit, being careful not to overdo it. Back squats can be deceivingly easy once you’ve got the hang of them until the delayed onset muscle soreness sets in!
Tip: If you’re a beginner, make sure that you have your feet hip distance apart for stability, especially as you begin to load more weight onto the bar. There are different types of squats you can experiment with as you begin to get more confident, such as the Bulgarian split squats, but make sure that you’ve gotten used to and are comfortable with the weight and balance of the bar. This is important as you don’t want an accident to occur!
A landmine squat is a great alternative to a hack squat, as well as allowing you to stay upright. Landmine squats are an anteriorly loaded squat variation that mainly works your quads, glutes, upper back, and your core muscles.
This exercise has a lower impact on your joints, so it's a safer squat alternative but it still has loads of benefits. With the landmine squat, a portion of the weight on the barbell is carried by the bar itself, making it a more manageable exercise to load whilst still giving you a great work out.
The main benefit of the landmine squat is that it's a joint-friendly exercise that is still effective at building strength and muscle. Landmine squats are joint-friendly because you are essentially forced to squat with correct form, meaning you are less likely to cause an injury if you’re inexperienced in weight lifting.
Landmine squat guide
- Place a barbell in the landmine attachment, alternatively, you could try securely wedging one end in a corner at the gym. Be careful that it doesn’t slip.
- Add weight to the opposite end of the barbell. Generally speaking, it’s best to use plates around 25lbs, as anything larger will limit your range of motion.
- Lift the bar from the floor to a position in front of your chest.
- Take a slight step back so that your chest is slightly leaning forward, then sit back into the squat position as you normally would.
- Once you’re low, push through the floor with the whole of your foot.
- Repeat for the desired amount of reps!
Safety bar squat
Safety bar squats are another excellent alternative to hack squats, whereby the lifter performs the squat with a special barbell.
There are multiple benefits of performing safety bar squats, namely, that they allow for shoulder mobility to be a non-factor in the squat. Alongside this, it naturally creates better pelvic orientation and bracing mechanics in most weight lifters.
It can be used to address weaknesses in the squat, such as the chest fall pattern, and can help if you have been injured in the past as it’s also easier on your back than traditional squats.
This is primarily down to the more upright trunk angle. As a result, safety bar squats are an even better hack squat alternative for those who have a current or previous back injury.
Safety bar squat guide
- Using a squat rack, place the bar at shoulder height.
- Put the barbell on your back with the foam.
- Grab the handles, making sure that you keep your elbows tucked into your sides at all times.
- Lift the bar off the squat rack by standing up, making sure that you take a few steps back.
- Place your knees hip distance apart, making sure that you feel comfortable and well balanced.
- Bend your knees and sit back into the squat position.
- Push up through the ground with the balls of your feet and return to the starting position.
- Repeat until you feel satisfied with the number of reps.
Tip: Be sure to remember to get your traps locked in place before you mount the bar, as you won’t be able to fully contract it once you have taken the bar out of the rack.
Similar to the safety bar squat, the Hatfield squat also makes use of a safety squat bar and is an excellent alternative to a hack squat.
This squat variation is essentially a safety-bar squat with your hands holding onto a barbell placed in front of you, or on specialized handles. The Hatfield squat targets the quads and glutes while maintaining a more vertical torso.
Hatfield squat guide
- Place the bar at shoulder height on the squat rack.
- Place the barbell on your back with the foam, making sure that it feels comfortable where you’ve placed it.
- Next, you should stand up and take a few steps back in order to clear the hooks.
- Place your hands on the bar.
- Bend your knees, leaning back into the squat position.
- To help you stand up, you can use your hands to assist you as you push back up into the starting position.
- Carry on the reps until you’re satisfied with your workout.
Tip: Try holding the bar as opposed to holding the rack. You can push through your weakest position in the squat not only with your feet planted on the ground but also with the use of your hands on the bar. Alongside this, the increased support allows you to control the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift, which can assist you in taking the pressure off your lower back.
There are multiple hack squat alternatives if you find yourself in the gym without a hack squat machine or simply don’t feel confident after an injury you’ve picked up on your fitness journey.
There are so many different exercises you can adapt and adopt into your routine, it’s all just a matter of finding what works and feels the best for you.
Everyone’s journey is different, so there’s bound to be some exercises you don’t get on as well with. Next time you’re at the gym, simply use this article and experiment until you find your favorite alternative to hack squats!